On to Zelda‘s third dungeon, assuming you’re going in the order God intended and not sequence-breaking. Which you can totally do up until this point.
Not that sequence-breaking is necessarily a good idea for the third dungeon, Manji, given that it’s specifically designed around two weapons: The White Sword and the Bombs.
The level nudges you more and more overtly to find the White Sword — subtly at first, but eventually outright asking you, “Hey, did you find the White Sword?” You need to have five hearts to equip the White Sword, which means that if you’ve been clearing the dungeons in order, you can upgrade that pitiful little Wooden Sword to something twice as powerful even if you haven’t found any free-range Heart Containers to beef up your health.
It’s interesting to see how the game hints at this. When you first enter Manji, the enemies actually seem easier than those of Moon. The first few rooms are filled with Zols, Zelda‘s equivalent of Slimes. You can take them down pretty easily, they move slowly, and they have no particular attacks to speak of. OK, but here’s the thing: If you hit a Zol with the Wooden Sword, it splits into two Gels. When you kill the Gels, you get bupkis. But if you hit a Zol with the White Sword, it’s instantly defeated and usually leaves behind some Rupees. So, if you go in with the weaker sword, you’ll have a tougher fight and get less for it. March ahead with the better weapon, on the other hand, and the dungeon is not only easier but more rewarding as well.
A little ways in, Manji starts hinting at the need for the White Sword a little more urgently. Here, the deadly Darknuts make their debut. Darknuts are the worst. They move about erratically, hit hard, and cannot be injured from the front. You have to hit a Darknut from behind or from the side to damage it, and they take quite a beating before they go down. The Boomerang does not stun them. A Darknut can absorb two hits of the White Sword, or four from the Wooden Sword. You really don’t want to be in a room full of deadly, unpredictable, 25% invincible enemies when it takes you four hits to kill them. “Get the White Sword!” the game urges.
The other tactic for beating a Darknut, of course, it to drop a Bomb. A single Bomb blast will destroy a Red Darknut outright if you manage to strike from behind, and even if its shield absorbs the blast you’ll still inflict some damage.
Bombs come heavily into play this dungeon. Destructible walls appear frequently (you can even bomb your way into the boss’ lair), Darknuts are susceptible to their power, and the boss itself is most easily dealt with through bombing.
Manhandla (uh, that name) is basically four Piranha Plants fastened to a spike bracelet, and it soaks up sword hits. A single Bomb blast will destroy any one of its heads, and a really well-placed Bomb will wipe out all four at once. It’s pretty rad!
Interestingly, you can make more or less a beeline for the boss and clear this dungeon in a matter of moments. There’s a path you can bomb to create a small shortcut, and the game blatantly hints at its presence (even though it never overtly tells you that bombing walls can create doors). A room full of Darknuts, once defeated, will yield a Bomb as your prize, spawning it right next to a blank wall where a hole is just waiting to be blasted open. It’s about as close as Zelda gets to flat-out telling you, “Hey! Blow up this wall!”
The boss resides in the northeast corner of Manji, and it’s pretty easy to take down. Meanwhile, the southwest corner of the dungeon is crazy hard — there’s a room with something like eight Darknuts in it! — which is your hint that the real objective this time around is located far from Manhandla. It’s all well and good to get your Triforce nugget, but what you really want is the raft. You can’t advance any further into the game without it.
See? You have to sail to the next dungeon on the raft. And there’s a key item in dungeon four that you’ll need to get through just about every other dungeon in the game. This is pretty much the choke point for progress. You don’t get the Raft, you can’t get the Ladder. You don’t get the Ladder, you’re pretty much boned, yo.
Dungeon four, Snake, revolves around two key elements: Demons and darkness. The demons take the form of Vires, which are big bounding monsters that look very silly but are a real pain in the butt to fight. The White Sword causes them to split into a pair of orange bats, and — unlike every other enemy in the game — they reappear as soon you return to the room. (Other bad guys respawn on something of a timer, allowing you to explore a bit before showing up again.) In almost every case, it’s better just to dash through any room that they appear in. Because they split into smaller creatures when struck, they (like Zols) don’t offer any loot drops when you mop up their spawn.
That’s more easily said than done, though; about half the rooms in Snake are soaked in darkness. At this point you really need to have invested in the Blue Candle, which will illuminate a room until you leave. The Candle’s flame fires slightly ahead of Link and burns there for a moment, which makes it kind of useful against Vires: If you do it right, you can damage a Vire and take out its Keese spawn with a single use of the Candle.
The first few dark rooms you encounter are pretty easy to navigate. They either have no permanent obstacles, or else there’s just a block or two in the middle of the room. Before long, however, the room layouts become fairly convoluted — more or less impossible to negotiate safely. Some recurring floor patterns debut here, such as the narrow paths over water and the diagonal block-divided lines.
Also here is the part at which you realize Nintendo isn’t as nice as they seem but rather that they hate you and want to torture you. The things that look like stacks of steak are Like-Like, which take a ton of hits to defeat and dissolve Link’s fancy shield if they manage to bump into you. No problem, except for the presence of the other new enemy: Bubbles (also, apparently, colloquially known as AIDS viruses), which cause Link to momentarily lose the ability to swing his sword. Usually, that’s just long enough to allow a Like-Like to hop on top of you and destroy your hard-earned Magic Shield, which costs a minimum of 90 Rupees to replace. This room sucks, and it’s only the first of many.
The boss here is a two-headed Gleeok, which peppers you with fireballs you can’t block anyway, so I guess it doesn’t matter if a Like-Like gets you or not. Unless you’re going for a low-health run, you can pretty much win by standing in place and stabbing like hell. When a head is defeated it detaches and floats around the room, but otherwise this guy’s pretty easy.